One Yard, Several Gardens And Two Retirees Needing A Village of Green Thumb Experts

Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Things change as we age...have you noticed that?  I remember when we bought our first house in 1995 I couldn't wait to create gardens, everywhere, and I did.  I put them in the front of the house, on the side of the house, all along the back border of the yard, you name it, I dug it up and planted it.  About a year or so ago it became pretty evident that my passion for enjoying the gardens had considerably surpassed my passion for tending the gardens.  Last year when it was so hot and humid, I barely tended anything beyond watering pots and maybe one or two weeding sessions.  It's not that I can't take care of the gardens, I just don't care to anymore.  So.....we embarked on a plan to revamp a little, including a total re-do of the front landscape and let me tell you, it took a village but the results are stunning.  Today's post is not to boast  about how pretty I think things look (they do) but to give some praise and publicity to the team that was involved in making the magic happen.  Maybe you'll be inspired to tackle your own yard and perhaps one of my team members can help you too.
There was nothing in front of our house when we bought it.  Since we had no extra change for landscaping lying around, we made due with Rose of Sharon transplants from my mom and used recycled Astilbes from our apartment garden.  It looked pretty ok during the week or so that the astilbes were in bloom, but after that not so much.  The Rose of Sharon were also 'ok' but got too big, even with annual trimming, and left a mess of spent blossoms on the sidewalk.
We had the massive triple-trunk maple on the left of this photo taken down in 2014 so it wouldn't end up in the house during a bad storm.  David's Tree Topping is our regular tree company - they are very reasonable and do great work.  Our hardscape guy, Mark Petrecki, had already built us a retaining wall and sidewalk in the past so when he offered his services to do the front landscape, we jumped at the offer.  We love Mark because not only is he a perfectionist, he is able to complete the job you've asked him to but the end result is always more beautiful than we could have imagined.  He just has a gift, a creative vision and never fails to produce an end result that far exceeds any of our expectations.  Mark dug out all the trees and astilbe, along with tons of Lily of the Valley, Bishop Weed and fern so we could begin with a clean slate.  This was just one small piece of his challenge!

I knew I wanted an airy look for the design, nothing too big, slow growers with room between shrubs and things that required little or no maintenance. We did our shopping at Kulak's Nursery on Balltown Road in Rexford. Pam listened to our goals, looked at photos we'd brought of the space and house and showed us possibilities that met with our requirements, i.e. light, space, etc... She was awesome! We brought home a bunch of shrubs, laid them out and went back for a few more. We ended up choosing some upright junipers, some Blue Star Junipers, a Nine-Bark, an oriental red maple, a Rubra Dogwood and a few others. I wanted a mixture of colors for interest, not just green shrubs.  Mark amended the soil with a combination of good quality dirt and compost and topped it with landscape cloth.    He also extended our original drip edge by a foot or so and left that area covered with stone.  After placing the plants in their designated locations, he cut large holes for the plants, mixed in the recommended amount of Bio-tone Starter into the soil, added water, then planted each shrub.  He finished the project with edging to keep the stone and eventual mulch separate, then added a beautiful coat of mulch and voila.....

My existing gardens were in dire need of work....weeding, dividing, transplanting, and a general clean out of all those invasive perennials that I once considered charming. That job was almost as labor intensive as Mark's landscaping job! Friends of ours happened to mention a gal who was starting her own landscaping business in the area, Maia van Holsteijn, Green Gardener, LLC.   I contacted Maia and put her right to I'm so grateful I did not have to do!  Maia worked diligently for 7 hours cleaning up messy gardens, weeding, dividing day lilies, eliminating rampant perennials and wow....what a difference.  This is the messy, crowded, over-grown BEFORE:

A very healthy crop of Bee Balm had overtaken the end of the garden, choking out my hydrangea.  And this is the clean, spacious and beautiful AFTER:

My side garden originally had a small section of split-rail fence that we installed in 1995, merely as a backdrop for a garden in the middle of the land between our house and the neighbor's. Last fall it blew over during the fall clean up...the posts likely rotted. I wasn't sure if  I wanted to keep that garden or not, but decided not to replace the fence. I asked Maia to do some of her magic there was overgrown with Evening Primrose which, again, looked great for a week or so when in bloom, but otherwise pretty boring the rest of the season. She yanked out all of those (hundreds I'm sure), transplanted a few sedum from other gardens out back, a Flox, planted a bunch of Iris we'd dug up in the fall, and before I knew it, I had a beautiful new garden!

This will look great soon when the Stella D'oro Lillies come into bloom! One of my grandmother's Iris is about to bloom too....she's been gone since 1989! I couldn't be more excited.

Mark put a fresh bed of mulch on all my gardens, we hadn't done mulch in a couple of years and it really helps keep the moisture in the ground as well as keeping the weeds at bay.  Speaking of weeds....we tried the concoction that's been all over the internet on a couple areas where we needed to eliminate grass and weeds.  We mixed a gallon of vinegar, 2 cups of Epsom salt and a couple teaspoons of dish soap in a garden sprayer.  Much safer than Round-Up for sure, but be careful not to use it near anything you don't want to eliminate!  A follow-up application was needed for stubborn (violets) weeds.
Mark also dug up several very large Hosta that were too close to our foundation on the back of the house.  He transplanted them on our lower level and moved some smaller varieties from the lower level to this space.  These varieties stay small and will let the stucco breathe, which is important to Mark since he stuccoed the foundation a few years ago when he replaced our basement windows!  That man can do anything.

To finish the project and add some color to the yard until the perennials come into bloom, we visited our local garden center, Sokolowski's Nursery on Grooms Road and bought some hanging baskets. I'd also gotten a few at our annual fundraiser sale at church. Now all I need to do is fill the old white birdbath with some small ground cover plants at Faddegon's for Elena's fairy garden and we'll be ready for summer! The only place I haven't made my annual pilgrimage yet is Shades of Green in Charlton....the source of all my beautiful hostas.  This year's visit might be easy on the budget because I don't see room for anything more, but you can never tell.
Post Script: In 2019 we completed our yard project by finishing off the slope of the yard.  Mark was tied up with other jobs so I enlisted the help of Sunshine Landscaping.  Three amazing workers dug out 20 years of ivy, pachysandra and fern, laid road cloth and stone to more neatly hold back our slope.  Maia helped plant about 8 new perennials and lay mulch and we could not be more pleased with the finished result.  Right after completion:

And a few weeks later:

Thanks to all my helpers....Pam at Kulak's, Mark Petrecki our mason, landscaper, and good friend, Maia my new garden fairy and Doug Smalley of Saratoga Turf Care who cuts our grass, and Davey's Trees who fertilize my trees and lawn and David's Tree Topping Service for years of tree removal.  Thanks also to Sunshine Landscaping, a dream to work with.  As I takes a village and without this group of amazing professionals none of this would be possible.  I can't wait to sit out back and soak it all in.  So this is what the Golden Years are like?  Yes, we probably could have done some of these chores ourselves, but life is short.  We'd rather be ridin' around the countryside snapping photos or playing with the grandkids than pulling weeds and spreading mulch.  No one ever said on their deathbed, "I wish I'd finished weeding my garden yesterday".  I know I certainly won't.  If you feel the same and need any of my pros to help you in your yard, I'm including a list with contact information.  I promise you won't be disappointed...they're all awesome!   Come back soon for more Life As I See It!
Petrecki & Son Masonry Hardscape - 518-858-6809
Maia van Holsteijn, the Green Gardener ( 712-240-6242
David's Tree Topping Service - 518-371-0361
Saratoga Turf Care, Doug Smalley - 518-371-0508
Kulak's Nursery - 518-399-2404
Sunshine Landscaping - 518-384-0086

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